TripAdvisor prepares to splash out to plug leak
TripAdvisor is considering an even bigger brand marketing spend for 2017, admitting that it had been “too optimistic” gauging how quickly travellers would start using the site for booking.
In a prepared remarks document released as part of its Q4/FY 2016 earnings, it said:
“As we further streamline the hotel shopping experience to focus on helping users find the best price, we are also evaluating a multi-year brand marketing investment, including a return to TV advertising…to accelerate the user perception shift to TripAdvisor as a place to price compare and book.
Size, scope, timing, and ROI of such investment are currently under consideration.”
TripAdvisor’s shift from reviews to bookings has been well documented, driven by the launch of its Instant Booking initiative. At the end of the 2016 it had 560,000 instantly bookable properties on its platform.
But at the same time it admitted that the “instant booking rollout induced significant revenue headwinds in 2016, muting revenue growth and significantly impacting profitability.”
Hotel revenues for 2016 came in at $1.19 billion, down 6%. Adjusted EBITDA of $380 million was 19% down on 2015.
Nonetheless, it remains convinced that this is best route to long-term and sustainable profitability.
The statement references ComScore reports which say that TripAdvisor “influences” 40-50% of the world’s hotel bookings. TripAdvisor wants to convert this influence into bookings, tapping the multi-billion dollar opportunity. It calls this disconnect “a monetization leak” and the proposed branding campaign is one way to address this.
Moving into 2017, it told the markets that it is:
“prioritizing revenue growth as opposed to profit growth this year….targeting double-digit consolidated revenue growth, driven by a return to double-digit click-based and transaction revenue growth, while absolute adjusted EBITDA could be flat to down year-on-year.”
And the guidance above does not factor in the impact of the proposed branding campaign, which would contribute positively to revenues while negatively impacting EBITDA further.
Mobile is a vital component in its long-term plans. Stats in the statement include a 22% year-on-year increase in the number of hotel mobile shoppers during the last three months of the year. Overall, “monetization on phone improved relative to desktop in 2016”.
Non-hotels are also talked about at length in the statement. Attractions “represent [its] biggest long-term opportunity outside hotels”. During 2016 the number of supplier partners increased by 90% and bookable products by nearly 80% to 56,000. Viator, which it bought for $200 million in 2014, is now closer to the mothership with Viator content integrated into TripAdvisor pages. Conversion is the priority for attractions during 2017.
Restaurants have also grown during 2016, with 40,000 now bookable on the platform, a 20% increase. TripAdvisor highlighted its mobile push notifications as a way to generate awareness, repeat use and bookings.
And in a nod to how it is trying to work more closely with hotel partners by offering B2B tools, it also launched Restaurant Solutions for this sector.
There are now 835,000 vacation rentals on the platform, a 10% increase during the year. Four out of five are bookable online with TripAdvisor talking up its efforts to improve the quality of its vacation rental inventory.
The pivot from reviews to bookings was always going to be challenging, and TripAdvisor execs should get some credit for ‘fessing up that they were over-optimistic. The problem appears to be that consumers didn’t get the memo and continue to see the site as somewhere to get advice about properties that are then booked elsewhere. The 45% annual increase in the number of reviews it hosts shows that people are still engaging with the site.
TripAdvisor is not the the first travel site to tell investors that it will prioritise revenues over profits in the short-term. The exact scale of the revenue/profit gap will become clearer when the branding campaign is fleshed out and costed. Until then, investors will have to wait and see: after that it could be a question of staying or going.
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Related reading from Tnooz:
TripAdvisor tipped for takeover (if it has a successful year) (Feb17)
TripAdvisor gets Instant Booking nod from Expedia (Dec16)
Martin Cowen is contributing editor for Tnooz and is based in the UK. Besides reporting and editing, he also oversees our sponsored content initiative and works directly with clients to produce articles and reports.
For the past several years he has worked as a freelance writer, specialising in B2B distribution and technology.
Before freelancing, from 2000-2008, he was launch editor for e-tid.com, the first online-only B2B daily news service for the UK travel sector.